Kitty’s Zoo

Kismit “Kitty” Henderson loves Donito the green iguana, a prominent member of her Zoo. (photo credit Bill Swank)

In March 2016, while my wife and I were dining at Troy’s Family Restaurant in the Clairemont Square, an attractive and charismatic African-American woman was enthusiastically telling owner Pete Likomitros that she had just crashed the Oscars show in Hollywood. There had been bitter controversy that year, because, for the second consecutive season, only white actors were nominated for Academy Awards.

This doughty Clairemont woman explained how she dressed like a movie star and just walked right into the Dolby Theater. By acting she belonged, nobody dared question her credentials. Obviously, the Academy did not wish to offend any African-Americans at such a delicate time…. and she knew it.

The woman’s name is Kismit “Kitty” Henderson and she legitimately has a connection with the film industry. Kitty had been the stunt-double for Viola Davis in her 2015 Emmy Award-winning role in How to Get Away with Murder.

Since then, our paths have crossed several times and Kitty always delivers a highly animated monologue. Among her many interests, is a great love for animals. She calls herself an Animal Educator and Advocate.

Billy the Royal Palm Show Turkey “talks” and stars in Kitty’s Zoo (photo credit Bill Swank)

She invited me to attend a recent show for the residents at Brookdale Senior Living Center on Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

With the help of her young assistant, Cameron, Kismit introduced a menagerie of rescued critters:

“Pickle,” a 10-year-old, “bi-polar” Conure Parrot (this bird really is nuts)

“Odell the Thing,” a 6-year-old long-hair Guinea Pig

“Scout,” a 5-month-old silky hair Guinea Pig

“A Star is Born Billy,” a year-and-a-half-old, “talking” Royal Palm Show Turkey

“Crazy Daisy,” a 3-year-old Mallard Duck

“Lil Black the Diva,” a 7-year-old Floppy Eared Lop Rabbit

“Q-Tip” AKA “Mr. Fluff Bucket,” a 3-year-old White Albino Angora Rabbit

“Roary, Queen of the Animal Kingdom,” a 4-year-old Lion Head Bunny

“Cheech and Chong,” a couple of easy going 20-year-old box turtles

“Boris the Russian,” a 50-years-plus Tortoise

“Arnold the Muscular,” a 2-year-old Leopard Chameleon

Carol Semon (right) studies “Skittles,” the colorful, male chameleon on Kitty’s arm (photo credit Bill Swank)

“Shittles,” a colorful 3-year-old male Chameleon

“Donito the Green Iggy,” a 15-year-old Green Iguana

“Red Mello,” a 5-year-old female Red Iguana

“Casper,” a very handsome, white-bobbing-headed, 5-year-old male bearded dragon

Kitty explained the rescue history of each animal and individually took them around for the residents to touch and hold. As opposed to the men, women were more inclined to touch the animals and, predictably, the women loved the bunnies. Jeana Stockfeld gently held “Lil Black the Diva,” the floppy eared rabbit, for the remainder of the show.

“Lil Black the Diva,” the Floppy Earred Lop Rabbit found comfort in Jeana Stockfeld’s lap (photo credit Bill Swank)

Gregarious Ray Smith, whose first dog was named Fritz, took cell phone photos of all the animals and wasn’t timid about interacting with the reptiles. The other men, by comparison, were wallflowers.

During the circus performance, Pickle whistled and flew around the room. Crazy Daisy’s wings are clipped, so she could only waddle and quack… and do what ducks do. Afterwards, Kitty laughed. Sometimes her animals make large messes.

Fans of The Tonight Show will remember when the San Diego Zoo’s ambassador, Joan Embry, took a marmoset to visit Johnny. The cute, little baby monkey climbed to the top of the host’s head… and relieved itself. The unflappable Carson quipped that he was glad Joan hadn’t brought a baby elephant.

Cassie Hammond, activities director at Brookdale, also loves animals. At home, her family has 3 dogs, 10 lizards, 2 snakes and a baby dove that she rescued at Brookdale.

Shirley Freedman and Madeleine Robenhymer hold “Q-Tip” AKA “Mr. Fluff Bucket,” a 3-year-old white, albino Angora rabbit at Brookdale Senior Living Center. (photo credit Madeleine Robenhymer)

“It was interesting and exciting to learn about the animals. I loved the bunnies most of all,” said Shirley Freedman, a retired school teacher who lived in Clairemont for over 50 years before moving into Brookdale. She was joined for lunch in the dining room by her friend, Madeleine Robenhymer, and another resident with bunnies on her t-shirt.

Experts tell us that people love pets because they return affection. Older adults can become lonely and depressed. Animals can help fill that void. Only a real grouch would react unfavorably to a soft, cuddly bunny or guinea pig.

If Kitty forgot Boris the Russian at the Brookdale Senior Living Center and, assuming they fed the tortoise a lot of lettuce, he’d probably be still there in 2219.

Kitty’s slogan is, “We bring the Zoo to you!”

She certainly did that for a group of happy seniors in Clairemont. Her rescue animals made a lot of friends that day.

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